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Posts Tagged ‘Exit West’

Books for Book Clubs: Start the new year with a great list

Last autumn, we were honored to once again meet with an amazing, long-standing book group who asked us to come up with a list of great books for them to read, enjoy, and discuss. (They actually won us in a charity auction; and honestly, it is really fun to think our reviews benefitted someone’s charitable causes.) To help the rest of you (who were not able to join us on a fine autumn evening over delicious food) find the right books for your book clubs or your own personal reading, we divided the list mostly by subject area, not genre. Happy reading!

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Coming of Age

Chemistry: A Novel (Vintage Contemporaries) Cover ImageChemistry by Weike Wang (2017). Once I started reading this, the pages just began to turn themselves. Our nameless narrator takes us on a journey set in Cambridge, Massachusetts where at the outset she is pursuing a PhD in Chemistry while living with her kind and attentive boyfriend Eric. It is funny, smart, observant, and poetic. It also takes us with her to challenging places of self-doubt, reflects on a less than perfect childhood as a first generation Chinese American, and grapples with the contradictions and cliches of being a woman in 21st century America. Some reviewers have described this as a book about indecision, others have said it is about depression. Pieces have been written about Chemistry as one new important books that highlights the Anglo-Asian experience For me, what Wang is sharing a truth transcends cultural experience or a DSM-5 diagnosis. I found it to be a story of an interesting young woman struggling with what it means to succeed in her field, looking for meaning in her work, and questioning deeply what it would look like to create a family for herself. Highly recommended for book groups. There’s a lot to talk about here. ~ Lisa Cadow

Prep: A Novel Cover ImagePrep by Curtis Sittenfeld (2005). Ms. Sittenfeld’s debut novel provides amazing fodder for book club conversations as everyone has gone to school at some point in their lives and everyone who is old enough to read this novel has experience or is experiencing their teens. Scholarship student Lee Fiora is an intelligent, observant fourteen-year-old when dropped off in front of her dorm at the prestigious Ault School in Massachusetts. She’s there because she wants an education, but also because of the school’s glossy brochure, promising gorgeous and kind boys in sweaters, lovely old brick buildings, girls in kilts with lacrosse sticks, and a place where everyone looks beautiful in chapel. Lee soon discovers that Ault hosts jaded, attractive teenagers who spend summers on Nantucket and speak in their own clever shorthand based upon years of wealth and the privileges it affords. In this novel, Lee provides a shrewd observer of–and, at some point, a participant in life at Ault. ~ Lisa Christie

Growing Old/Death

When Breath Becomes Air Cover ImageWhen Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalinithi  (2016) – Chances are good that you’ve heard of this best selling memoir but may not have read it given the heavy subject matter. At the outset, we know that the author, 36-year old Paul will succumb to lung cancer at the height of his career as a neurosurgeon. Don’t let this put you off from reading his incredible story and from benefiting from the insights he gleaned during his short life. Kalinithi is a brilliant writer who was curious from a young age about the workings of the mind and it’s connection to our soul. He studied philosophy and creative writing before committing to medicine which gives him other lenses from which to explore profound questions. He is candid with the reader about his personal and professional struggles. Ultimately I found this book hopeful and inspiring. When I turned the last page I immediately wanted to share it with loved ones. ~ Lisa Cadow (and seconded by Lisa Christie)

Our Souls at Night (Vintage Contemporaries) Cover ImageOur Souls at Night by Kent Haruf  (paperback 2016). I couldn’t help immediately falling for Addie, the 70-something protagonist of this story when she knocks on the door of her similarly-aged neighbor and invites him to sleep with her. No, not in that way! She simply wants Louis to come over to her house to share what both characters agree are the loneliest hours. Thus begins the story of Addie and Louis unexpectedly finding meaning and human connection in the later part of their lives. Haruf wrote this slim novel at the end of his own life with his trademark spartan prose and simple language. Named one of the best books of the year in 2015 by the The Washington Post, this masterpiece is profound and poignant and worth every minute of reading time spent lost in its all-too-few pages.~ Lisa Cadow (Note: the Book Jam Lisas tend to love most of Mr. Haruf’s novels – Plainsong for example; so, don’t stop reading Mr. Haruf if you like this novel.) ~ Lisa Cadow

Impact of Technology/Our Future

Feed Cover ImageFeed by MT Anderson (2012). As screens dominate our work and leisure, and well, basically our lives, this book about a future in which we all have direct feeds into our brains, feeds through which corporations and governments directly provide us with all the information they think we need, is prescient and honestly page-turning. The group of fictional teens starring in this novel, teens whose feeds malfunction, demonstrate oh so very well how important what we consume through media is to our lives today and perhaps provides a tale of caution we all need. ~ Lisa Christie

 Gun Violence

Long Way Down Cover ImageA Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds (2017). Mr. Reynolds tackles gun violence in this unique, powerful and short novel. The story unfolds in short bouts of powerful, insightful verse over the course of a 60 second elevator ride. During this ride, Will must decide whether or not to follow the RULES – No crying. No snitching. Revenge. – and kill the person he believes killed his brother Shawn. With this tale, Mr. Reynolds creates a place to understand the why behind the violence that permeates the lives of so many, and perhaps hopefully a place to think about how this pattern might end. I’d love to hear how Book Clubs use this book as a place to begin solving this ever present public health issue. ~ Lisa Christie

Sexual Assault/Gender Equity

Young Jane Young: A Novel Cover ImageYoung Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin (2017). A GREAT book about youth, choices, first jobs, and how all of that affects the rest of your life. If you are a person of a certain age, it may also remind you of a certain political scandal or two. Bonus: you will laugh a lot and it is a relatively quick read so great for those months crowded with so many things you can’t possibly read all the books you wish. We are certain it will be a movie soon – so read it now so you can cast it in your mind first. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie
CIRCE (#1 New York Times bestseller) Cover ImageCirce by Madeline Miller (2018) – A perfect book for fans of mythology or the classics. Really one of the best books of 2018, this novel retells portions of the Odyssey from the perspective of Circe, the original Greek witch. As The Guardian described it, Circe is not a rival to its original sources, but instead “a romp, an airy delight, a novel to be gobbled greedily in a single sitting”. May lead to great discussions about feminism today. ~ Lisa Christie

Whatever Happened to Interracial Love?: Stories Cover ImageWhatever Happened to Interracial Love? by Kathleen Collins (2016) –  I am so glad someone put this collection of short stories in my hands. The writing by Ms. Collins – a little known African American artist and filmmaker – is distinct and concise and paints vivid pictures of life in New York in the 1970s. The backstory to the collection is even better – these stories were discovered by Ms. Collins’ daughter after her death. (Best Book of 2016 by NPR and Publishers Weekly). ~ Lisa Christie

Convenience Store Woman Cover ImageConvenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata (2018). As an indie bookstore reviewer, Lauren Peugh of Powell’s Books in Oregon, stated, “Keiko Furukura has worked at her local convenience store for 18 years. Every day, she ensures that the shelves are tidy, the hot food bar is stocked, and the featured items are adequately displayed. She greets every customer with a cheerful ‘Irasshaimase!’ and no one notices that she’s never fit in anywhere else. Murata draws lush descriptions of the beauty of order and routine out of simple, spare prose, and every page crackles with the life she’s created. Because of the humor, the wit, the almost unbearable loveliness of it all, Convenience Store Woman, a small book about a quiet life, makes an enormous impact on the reader.” ~ Lisa Cadow

Domestic Violence
American by Day Cover ImageNorwegian by Night Cover ImageNorwegian by Night (2013) and American by Day (2018) by Derek Miller. See our June 18, 2018 post for our rave review of the first book in this series, Norwegian by Night. In American By Day, detective Sigrid Odegard is back in to star in this literary mystery series by Derek Miller, this time is traveling the the United States to find her missing brother, Marcus,  a suspect in the murder of his girlfriend. It offers a fascinating  Norwegian perspective on “strange” America – our foods, our neighborhoods, our quirks and Sigrid’s impression of life in upstate New York. We also have the pleasure of meeting, Irv, the sheriff in the local town, who is not only a police officer but also a graduate of divinity school. Miller’s writing is refreshing and interesting and leaves the reader looking forward to his next book.~Lisa Cadow

Educated: A Memoir Cover ImageEducated by Tara Westover (2018). Educated, is one of the most affecting – if not the most affecting – memoirs of 2018 . In many ways this story is about author Tara Westover’s educational journey from her family’s rural homestead in Idaho where she received no formal tutelage, worked in the junkyard on their property, while only barely passing the GRE to matriculate to Brigham and Young. It concludes when she earns her PhD from Cambridge University in England. It is an astounding and moving narrative which often leaves the reader shaking her head in bewilderment. But when the last page is turned, this book is even more importantly about something that lies beyond formal learning and the ivory tower. It is about standing up for one’s self, making sense of reality, and finally harnessing the strength to say “This is my truth.”Many readers have observed that this book reminds them of Glass CastleJeanette Walls‘ affecting and best-selling memoir. This makes sense as they are both books about surviving and succeeding professionally unusual childhoods. And yet Westover’s experience deserves to stand alone. It’s that good. It offers a window into the Mormon experience, life in the West, and also addresses the the difficult subject of domestic abuse. Highly recommended and an excellent choice for book groups. ~Lisa Cadow

Race Relations

Between the World and Me Cover ImageBetween the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates (2015). Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. This book is a letter to his son about race in America. As another of our favotire authors wrote about this book, “I’ve been wondering who might fill the intellectual void that plagued me after James Baldwin died. Clearly it is Ta-Nehisi Coates. The language of Between the World and Me, like Coates’ journey, is visceral, eloquent, and beautifully redemptive. And its examination of the hazards and hopes of black male life is as profound as it is revelatory.” ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Dear Martin Cover ImageMonday is Not Coming (2018) or Allegedly (2018) by Tiffany Jackson or The Hate U Give (2017) by Angie Thomas or Dear Martin by Nic Stone (2018). All these books are fabulous YA novels about life in contemporary USA. All lend themselves to great discussions about youth, race, and the USA today. And they are all pretty quick reads so perfect for months your book club is a bit overwhelmed. Briefly,  Dear Martin and The Hate U Give address gun violence in the USA. Monday is Not Coming speaks to treatment of African American girls in the USA and Allegedly addresses juvenile justice issues. ~ Lisa Christie

Immigration
Fruit of the Drunken Tree: A Novel Cover ImageDear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen Cover ImageFruit of the Drunken Tree by Ingrid Contreras (2018) paired with Dear America by Jose Vargas (2018). Both of these books provide insight into what life brings for new immigrants to the USA.  Fruit of the Drunken Tree is one of those books that are so gorgeous when you finish you turn back to page one and start over again. I was so moved by this story and so sad to see it end that I finished the author’s notes at the end and began again, re-reading at least the first 30 pages before I was ready to let these characters go. The novel, set in Bogota during the height of Pablo Escobar’s power, shows the horrors violence breeds through the eyes of seven year old Chula and her family’s maid Petrona. Loosely based upon actual events in the life of the author, this debut novel devastates and uplifts with every perfectly placed word. Dear America is a memoir penned by the most famous undocumented immigrant in the USA. ~ Lisa Christie

Exit West: A Novel Cover ImageExit West by Mosin Hamid (2017). We LOVED this novel. It is short, gorgeously written, and covers important and timely topics – love immigration, war. Basically perfect. Or, as the New York Times said in its review, “It was as if Hamid knew what was going to happen to America and the world, and gave us a road map to our future… At once terrifying and … oddly hopeful.” –Ayelet Waldman in The New York Times Book Review ~– Lisa Christie•

Amazing Fiction You May Have Missed

The Sea (Vintage International) Cover ImageThe Sea by John Banville (2005). I often describe this slim novel as the perfect dysfunctional Irish family novel.  In it Max Morden, a middle-aged Irishman travels back to the seaside town where he spent his childhood summers in an attempt to cope with the recent loss of his wife. There he confronts all he remembers and some things he does not. ~ Lisa Christie 
The House on Mango Street (Vintage Contemporaries) Cover Image

House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros (1991). My oldest son read this in High School and I joined him in the experience by re-reading Ms. Cisneros’s acclaimed novel about life as a Latino in New York City. I enjoyed it years ago and enjoyed it again this time, with a huge bonus of being able to discuss it with my son. I hate to trivialize it by calling it a coming-of-age story, but I will call it a masterpiece of childhood and self-discovery. ~ Lisa Christie

Nutshell Cover ImageNutshell by Ian McKewan (2016) – This mystery is a clever treasure. Told from the completely original perspective of a 9-month-old fetus awaiting his birth, we witness his mother, Trudy, and her lover, Claude, plotting the murder of his father. A modern day interpretation of HamletNutshell is at once tragic and immensely amusing — with the baby boy simultaneously evaluating his mother’s wine choices while expressing his powerlessness to help his unsuspecting father. Told by a master writer at the height of his story-telling abilities, this is not to be missed.  ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie
FC9780316243926.jpgBurial Rites by Hannah Kent (2013) – Ms. Kent’s first novel is based upon the true story of Agnes, the last woman executed in Iceland. In it, Ms. Kent vividly renders Agnes’s life from the point where she is sent to an isolated farm to await execution for killing her former master (or did she?). Be careful though, reading this may inspire some wanderlust because of the way Ms. Kent makes Iceland a character in a vast array of memorable people Agnes encounters. Enjoy. Note, this was also reviewed in our previous post “Books to Inspire Your Summer Travels“.~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

When the Elephants Dance by Tessa Uriza Holthe (2002).  This novel provides insight into Filipino culture in the waning days of World War II.  How?  By following the Karangalans – a family who huddles with their neighbors in the cellar of a house near Manila to wait out the war.  The book alternates between 1) heart-wrenching looks at life during war as those hiding in the basement venture out to forage for much-needed food, water and news and, 2) spellbinding myths and legends the group uses to entertain each other while they wait for the war to end.  The book is a testament to the power of stories in giving much-needed resolve to survive. ~ Lisa Christie 

Luckiest Girl Alive: A Novel Cover ImageLuckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll (2015). Reviewers compare it to Gone Girl. I just enjoyed reading this page-turner. Indiebound may have summed it best, “with a singular voice and twists you won’t see coming, Luckiest Girl Alive  explores the unbearable pressure that so many women feel to ‘have it all’ and introduces a heroine whose sharp edges and cutthroat ambition have been protecting a scandalous truth, and a heart that’s bigger than it first appears.” Have fun. ~ Lisa Cadow

A Fun Book that May Cause You to Rethink Mrs. Bush

American Wife: A Novel Cover ImageAmerican Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld (2008). Ms. Sittenfeld’s story of Charlie and Alice made me re-think Mrs. Laura Bush and the politicians who surround her. Hopefully you will enjoy it and rethink your thoughts of many politicians.   As an indie book reviewer from Wisconsin wrote, “The reader will recognize the main characters, Alice and Charlie, as they experience their tempestuous courtship and marriage, and their rise to political fame and fortune. Although the setting is Wisconsin, the protagonists bear a curious resemblance to a couple from Texas who achieved the highest office of the land. This story, told from the perspective of a fictional First Lady, is hard to put down!” ~ Lisa Christie

Creative Short Story Collections

The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher: Stories Cover ImageAssassination of Margaret Thatcher by Hilary Mantel (2014). From the title story about a man trapped in his flat with a would-be assassin of Prime Minister Thatcher, to a shorter tale about the end of a marriage Ms. Mantel’s narrators are a bit warped and the every day situations they encounter unusually framed. Basically, a superb and eclectic mix of stories to enjoy. ~ Lisa Christie

Vida Cover ImageVida by Patricia Engel (2010). This collection of linked stories would make a great movie about lives lived between two countries — in this case, Colombia and the USA (mostly New Jersey and Miami). This book follows Sabina, a second generation Colombian American, as she navigates life — a life in which nothing truly terrible or amazing ever happens, but somehow makes a compelling read. Collectively, the stories outline a coming of age tale we can all relate to, whether from a recent immigrant family or not. This collection was Ms. Engel’s debut, and it was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year; a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Fiction Award and Young Lions Fiction Award; and a Best Book of the Year by NPR, among other awards. We hope those accolades will convince you to try it, and will encourage someone in Hollywood to bring it to the big screen. ~ Lisa Christie

The Tsar of Love and Techno: Stories Cover ImageThe Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra (2015). The author of A Constellation of Vital Phenomenon comes through again with a SUPERB book. This time, he provides connected short stories about USSR and Russia from the Cold War through today. I usually don’t like short stories, but this one has remained with me throughout the past few years. To me, it was one of the best books of 2015. And I honestly think it would make a great place for some great book club discussions.  And if you are really short on time before one of your book club gatherings, you could pick one of the stories instead of them all. ~ Lisa Christie

Compelling Nonfiction
All You Can Ever Know: A Memoir Cover Image

All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung (2018). As a mother to two sons, adopted from South America and raised in overwhelmingly white Vermont, this book was truly difficult for me. Chung’s stories of growing up as the rare person of color in her predominantly white community in Oregon and the trauma that she had to work through as a result, hit a little too close to home. Her difficulties with identity and her adoption, tugged hard at my heart and my guilt. Her writing is poignant and pointed as she tells her tale of finding her birth family, exploring her own feelings about motherhood while preparing to give birth for the first time, and discovering what family means to her. In short, this book is a great memoir for anyone interested in the experiences of people of color in the USA, the experiences of adoption in the USA, and how families are formed no matter your race or birth status.~ Lisa Christie

My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist's Personal Journey Cover ImageMy Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor (2018). I used this book for one of the book clubs I run in my health coaching job.  In this memoir, Jill Bolte Taylor, a thirty-seven- year-old Harvard-trained brain scientist desxcribes her life before and after she experienced a massive stroke in the left hemisphere of her brain. She watches her mind deteriorate to the point that she could not walk, talk, read, write, or recall any of her life-all within four hours. However, her stroke was a blessing and enabled many revelations. A great book for intense discussions about life and thinking. ~ Lisa Cadow

Brazilian Adventure Cover ImageBrazilian Adventure by Peter Fleming (1932). In 1932, Peter Fleming, brother of Ian Fleming (yes, the James Bond Fleming) traded in his editor job for an adventure  — taking part in a search for missing English explorer Colonel P.H. Fawcett. Colonel Fawcett was lost, along with his son and another companion, while searching Brazil for the Lost City of Z (a trip recently memorialized by a Hollywood movie). With meager supplies, faulty maps, and packs of rival newspapermen on their trail, Fleming and company hiked, canoed, and hacked through 3,000 miles of wilderness and alligator-ridden rivers in search of Fawcett’s fate. Mr. Fleming tells the tale with vivid descriptions and the famous British wry humor, creating a truly memorable memoir and possibly one of the best travel books of all time.~ Lisa Christie

West with the Night: A Memoir Cover ImageWest With the Night by Beryl Markham (1942). This incredible book shows how an amazing woman lived, flew, loved and laughed in Africa in the early part of the 20th century. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts. Cover ImageSomething/anything by Brene Brown (assorted years). We first heard of Ms. Brown because of a TED talk. Then she seemed to be everywhere – on multiple NPR interviews, in magazines, books in friends’ homes. So we picked up a book or tow of hers and read.  In all, she takes her research studying difficult emotions such as shame, fear, vulnerability from her career at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, and adds insights from her own “mid-life unraveling” and other real life adventures. Her messages throughout are more insightful than they may at first appear. And, she reminds us all that courage, compassion and connection are gifts that only work when exercised. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Pairings: Because They Can Be Twice As Good

Madame Bovary Cover ImageIn One Person Cover ImageMadame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (1856) – John Irving’s In One Person (2012) – Madame Bovary  plays an important role in Mr. Irving’s tale of a bi-sexual man growing up on the grounds of a Vermont prep school and the life he then leads.

 

On Beauty: A Novel Cover ImageHowards End Cover ImageOn Beauty by Zadie Smith (2006) with Howard’s End by Forster (1910). Ms. Smith retells Howard’s End as the tale of an interracial family living in a university town in Massachusetts. Both sides of the Atlantic play a part in the escapades that ensue. Full of dead-on wit and relentlessly funny. Enjoy and then read Howard’s End, Forster’s classic tale of English social mores at the end of the 19th century and compare. ~ Lisa Christie

Gertrude and Claudius: A Novel Cover ImageHamlet Cover ImageGertrude and Claudius by John Irving (2000) with Hamlet by Shakespeare (1603). Most agree that Gertrude and Claudius are the villains of Hamlet . John Irving creates a Gertrude and Claudius Shakespeare left behind for his imagination. In this slim novel, Mr. Irving tells the tale of Hamlet from the villains’ perspective and things shake out slightly differently.  Read both versions and compare. ~ Lisa Christie

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Image result for images of holiday giftsDo not panic – we are here with some GREAT ideas for last minute gift giving. Happy end of 2018, and happy holidays.

Adult Nonfiction/Coffee Table/Gift Books

Bibliophile: An Illustrated Miscellany Cover ImageBibliophile: An Illustrated Miscellany by Janet Mount (2018) – For the voracious book omnivore in your life, this cleverly curated offering will feel perfectly at home decorating a coffee table, in a well-stocked bathroom, or simply piled by the bedside. Wherever it lives, however, it will always find itself in someone’s hands. The colorful cover illustration entices the viewer to open the book and once in, provides much food for thought: What are the best bookstores in New York City (including the quizzes that they offer potential new hires!)? What are some of  the most iconic book covers of the past several decades? Name some of the best literary cats! There are even “Bibliophile” notecards and a daily planner that can accompany this lovely gift. ~Lisa Cadow

The Lost Words Cover ImageThe Lost Words by Robert Macfarlane, illustrated by Janet Morris (2017) – This gorgeous, oversized picture book could be gifted equally to the word lovers, nature-enthusiasts, etymological historians, and art-appreciators in your life. The Lost Words is a most thought-provoking recent compilation that challenges readers of any age to consider why words disappear — or, conversely, are born. It highlights and lushly illustrates words such as “dandelion,” “willow,” and “otter” that were, in the most recent revision of the Oxford Junior Dictionary, edited out of the compilation by the Oxford University Press. In their place, were put new ones such as “blog”, “broadband”, “chatroom”, “committee”, and “voice-mail.”  This is a beautiful conversation piece – perusing it makes the reader  feel as if she is taking a stroll through the English countryside – that will challenge all who encounter it to take a moment to reflect on our rapidly changing, albeit still stunning natural world. ~Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Calypso Cover ImageCalypso by David Sedaris (2018) – Mr. Sedaris’s latest collection of essays tackles the “not-so-joyful” aspects of reaching middle age. Perhaps because of this, this collection is not as laugh-out-loud funny as his previous collections. That said, it is impossible for me to read Mr. Sedaris’s work without hearing his distinctive voice in my head, making his wry insights even funnier than they initially appear on the page. And honestly, his perceptive commentary about life’s mundane and heartbreaking moments is superb no matter the level of humor. Pick this up and enjoy or give it as a great gift! ~ Lisa Christie

Adult Fiction

Lethal White (A Cormoran Strike Novel) Cover ImageLethal White (and other titles) by Robert Galbraith (2018) – This series continues to be one of my favorites. I was so grateful to devour this thriller as the news from DC was so horrid. And I will let the New York Times speak for me – “At times you might feel as you did when reading the Harry Potter books, particularly later in the series, when they got longer and looser. You love the plot, and you love being in the company of the characters, and you admire the author’s voice and insights and ingenuity, and you relish the chance to relax into a book without feeling rushed or puzzled or shortchanged…. Long live the fertile imagination and prodigious output of J.K. Rowling.”The New York Times ~ Lisa Christie

CIRCE (#1 New York Times bestseller) Cover ImageCirce by Madeline Miller (2018) – A perfect book for fans of mythology or the classics. Really one of the best books of 2018, this novel retells portions of the Odyssey from the perspective of Circe, the original Greek witch. As The Guardian described it, Circe is not a rival to its original sources, but instead ” a romp, an airy delight, a novel to be gobbled greedily in a single sitting”. If needed, this would be an especially great gift for the feminists in your life. ~ Lisa Christie

Priest Turned Therapist Treats Fear of God: Poems Cover ImagePriest Turned Therapist Treats Fear of God: Poems by Tony Hoagland (2018) –  I would have picked this up for the title alone, but a recommendation from delightfully smart and poetry-loving Penny McConnel of the Norwich Bookstore meant I had to read it. She wanted to include it in her Pages in the Pub selections, but ran out of choices; so, I am happy to include it for her here. This collection contemplates human nature and modern culture with anger, humor, and humility. I honestly wanted to read this collection in one fell swoop and had to force myself to slow down and savor each poem. As The New York Times wrote, “Hoagland’s verse is consistently, and crucially, bloodied by a sense of menace and by straight talk.” ~ Lisa  Christie

Exit West: A Novel Cover ImageExit West by Moshin Hamid (2017) – We LOVED this novel.  It is short, gorgeously written, and covers important and timely topics – love immigration, war. Basically perfect. Or, as the New York Times said in it’s review, “It was as if Hamid knew what was going to happen to America and the world, and gave us a road map to our future… At once terrifying and … oddly hopeful.” –Ayelet Waldman in The New York Times Book Review ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Teens

Love & Other Carnivorous Plants Cover ImageLove & Other Carnivorous Plants by Florence Gonsalves (2018) – A superb YA book that deals with eating disorders, death, questioning one’s sexuality, mental health issues, and going away to, and returning from college with grace and love and humor. Quick plot summary Danny and Sara met in Kindergarten and vowed to be friends forever – a vow strained by Danny’s departure to Harvard after first promising to room with Sara at another college. Things unravel for them both while apart and their reunion back home during the summer after their first year away starts the drama of this book. Truly a stellar debut by this young (I think she is 24) author. This book received a starred review by Book List and praise from the School Library Journal and Kirkus. Impressive all around. (Bonus fact: She is a Dartmouth graduate.) ~ Lisa Christie

American Like Me: Reflections on Life Between Cultures Cover ImageAmerican Like Me: Reflections on Life Between Two Cultures by America Ferrera (2018) – A great and timely selection of essays about being an American immigrant or child of immigrants. Most of the essays address aspects of being a teen in the USA, providing a great “in” for most teens to the stories of these immigrants.  Plus, you will recognize a lot of the authors (e.g., Lin Manuel Miranda). ~ Lisa Christie

Picture Books for All Ages

In the Town All Year 'Round Cover ImageIn the Town All Year Round by Rotraut Susanne Berner (2008) – This is an older title that we somehow missed until recently. A sophisticated “Where’s Waldo” of the surprising things you find in town every day. A great way for kids and the adults who love them to discuss what people do day in and day out. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Atlas of Adventures: A collection of natural wonders, exciting experiences and fun festivities from the four corners of the globe Cover ImageAtlas of Animal Adventures and Atlas of Dinosaur Adventures and Atlas of Adventure Wonders of the World by Lucy Letherland (assorted years) – Ms. Letherland wrote one of our favorite oversized picture books of all time – Atlas of Adventure. We are pretty certain we gifted it to just about every family we knew once we discovered it. And, we must say every family thanked us profusely for adding it to their collection. Thus, we were excited to see Ms. Letherland’s illustrations grace these other books. All of these books provide oversized, joyous illustrations and plenty of inspiration to learn more about a wide variety of places and topics. ~ Lisa Christie

More Traditional Picture Books

Harriet Gets Carried Away Cover ImageHarriet Gets Carried Away by Jessie Sima (2018) – AWESOME tale of imagination and love.  A little girl’s mission is simple – to find party hats; how she gets them so complicated. We also are hoping the fact her adventures include two dads and a lot of penguins is a shout out to And Tango Makes Three, a great picture book based upon an actual penguin at the Central Park Zoo with two dads. ~ Lisa Christie

Ada Twist, Scientist Cover ImageAda Twist Scientist by Andrea Beaty illustrated by David Roberts (2018) – Ada’s curiosity is unending and leads her to great big messes.  Doe sit also make her a great scientist?  We all can learn from Ada’s fearless explorations, and the rhymes and illustrations are fun. ~ Lisa Christie

City Cover ImageCity by Ingela P. Arrhenius (2018) – The bold, colorful, almost block-like pictures remind of us our favorite board book for toddlers – My Car by Byron Barton. Very few words and bold graphic illustrations make this the perfect oversized book for very young readers to share with the adults who love them. ~ Lisa Christie

 

Chapter Books for Kids to Read or Families to Read Aloud

The Adventures of a Girl Called Bicycle Cover ImageThe Adventures of a Girl Called Bicycle by Christina Uss (2018) – This delightful story of a girl who loves bicycles, is faced with a fate she does not want – friendship camp – and decides to take her life into her own hands and onto her favorite two wheels, has everything a great tale for kids should have – spirited heroine, a cookie-wielding sage, ghosts, quirky inventors, luck, a grand goal – bicycling across the country to meet her hero, and ultimately adults who help her seize her own destiny. Told in a perfectly sly manner with great humor and charm, this adventure book will leave every reader smiling. Thank you Ms. Beth (see below as well) for putting this in my hands.  ~ Lisa Christie

The Extraordinary Colors of Auden Dare Cover ImageThe Extraordinary Colors of Auden Dare by Zillah Bethell (2018) – Ms. Beth, our small town’s children’s librarian, put this in my hands and I honestly couldn’t believe that any book could live up to her hype. But, it charmed me completely. In this novel, a colorblind boy, Auden Dare lives in a future world where the scarcity of water is the cause of all wars.  Auden’s brilliant scientist uncle suddenly dies, leaving a home to Auden’s mother and notes outlining a mystery for Auden and Auden’s new friend Vivi. These notes lead them on an adventure they both needed and to a new friend, the mysterious robot Paragon. Together Vivi and Auden must solve the mystery that is Paragon and possibly save the world and their own families in the process. Auden, Paragon and Vivi will stay with you long after the last page. ~ Lisa Christie

Mascot Cover ImageMascot by Antony John (2018) – I laughed. I cried. I snorted from laughing and crying. And, I loved this book about baseball, horrific accidents (a dad dies and a son is in a wheelchair), rebuilding muscles and lives, friendships, parents who annoy, and middle school. I might even have to become a Cardinals fan. Reminiscent of my other favorite middle grades baseball novel Soar in its scope and its unflinching look at tough situations and how people can inspire as they face every obstacle. You will be so grateful you read this book. Or as Kirkus reviews says, “Noah’s dilemma is universal: the struggle to rebuild identity when what once defined us no longer exists. Highlights the challenges of adapting to puberty and sudden disability at the same time.” ~ Lisa Christie

Speechless Cover ImageSpeechless by Adam P. Schmidt (2018) – This tale of Jimmy, a middle school aged boy tasked with giving the eulogy for his “very hard to love” cousin, is a superb way to think about all the “hard to love” people we encounter as we go through life and what we may do to be better as a result. The fact Jimmy’s suit is way to small and buttons are threatening to pop at any moment is one of many small details that Mr. Schmidt uses with great skill to make the characters, their issues, and the whole plot real. A great debut novel that will have you thinking at its close. Note: this novel addresses alcoholism, tragic accidents, abuse. ~ Lisa Christie

Wallpaper Deer New year Lantern Star decoration Christmas tree Snow Berry Branches Pine cone Holidays Boards 3840x2400 Christmas New Year tree Conifer cone Wood planks

 

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Image result for images of madeleine kuninMadeleine Kunin — Vermont’s former three-term governor, who also served as the deputy secretary of education and ambassador to Switzerland under President Bill Clinton, and is the author of best selling books about her life in politics — has a new book, Coming of Age.

Governor Kunin will appear at 7 pm on Friday, November 16th at the Norwich Bookstore to discuss Coming of Age, her close and incisive look at what it is like to grow old. This event is free and open to the public, but reservations are recommended as space is limited. Please call 802-649-1114 or email info@norwichbookstore.com to save a seat.Coming of Age: My Journey to the Eighties Cover ImageAnd now, her answers to our three questions. We note the brevity of her responses with gratitude and laughter as we reflect on how many, many words other politicians are speaking as election day looms. We are also taking this opportunity to personally thank her for how well she governed our home state, and for how gracious, passionate, and diplomatic she remains in all that she does. (By the way, please VOTE on Tuesday, November 6th, even though we can no longer cast a ballot for Governor Kunin.)

Nancy Drew 01: the Secret of the Old Clock Cover ImageNutshell: A Novel Cover ImageDear Life: Stories (Vintage International) Cover Image

1.What three books have helped shape you into the writer you are today, and why?

It’s difficult to pin point what three writers shaped me—In my early years I loved Nancy Drew. Later [books by] Alice Munro, and Ian McEwan.

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2.What author (living or dead) would you most like to have a cup of coffee with and why?

Margaret Atwood

Exit West: A Novel Cover ImageCalypso Cover ImageSouth and West: From a Notebook (Vintage International) Cover Image

3.What books are currently on your bedside table?

Exit West, Calypso, and South and West.

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As part of our mission to promote authors, the joy of reading, and to better understand the craft of writing, The Book Jam has paired with the The Norwich Bookstore in Norwich, Vermont to present an ongoing series entitled “3 Questions”. In it, we pose three questions to authors with upcoming visits to the bookstore. Their responses are posted on The Book Jam during the days leading up to their engagement. Our hope is that this exchange will offer insight into their work and will encourage readers to attend these special author events and read their books.

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Once again, as a very special treat for all of us, we asked our favorite booksellers to review the one book they are recommending right now. We hope these titles help you adjust to the shorter days of autumn, take some time to sit and read, and find your next great book to recommend to all your favorite readers.

Thank you Norwich Bookstore Booksellers. As always, your selections have added to the stack of books weighing down our bedside tables.

And now, their list:

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Penny Recommends

Rising: Dispatches from the New American Shore Cover ImageRising: Dispatches from the New American Shore by Elizabeth Rush (2018) – I believe this book may be the “Silent Spring” for our times. At first, I was not sure that I could write a review, for it is both a beautiful and yet devastating read. From New England to the Eastern Coast to California, the seas are rising, the marshes are flooding and we are in great peril. There once were bayous in Louisiana that no longer exist. There are people whose homes are now under water. Yes, the tale is at times overwhelming, but somehow Rush’s poetic and flowing language draw the reader further into her story. Descriptions of the scientists and volunteers who are working daily to combat these dire conditions, as well as the personal commentaries of people whose lives have been affected recount courage and elicit empathy. I found myself loving this book and looking forward each morning to reading a few more pages.

David Biello in the New York Times Sunday Book Review gave Rising a glowing review: “This is a book for those who mourn the changing climate and coast, as well as, perhaps, America’s diminishing literary culture: sadness benefits from lyrical prose”.

Carin Recommends

The Silence of the Girls: A Novel Cover ImageThe Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker (2018) – Pat Barker writes about the cost of war better than just about anybody. (Her WW1 Regeneration Trilogy is a classic.) In The Silence of the Girls , she retells the story of the Trojan War, mostly from the point of view of Briseis, a queen who becomes Achille’s slave and concubine after he kills most of her family and obliterates her town. All the Iliad characters are here and wonderfully wrought — Achilles, driven mad by bloodlust and desire for revenge, sorrowful Priam who just wants his beloved son’s body, Achilles’ loyal childhood friend Patroclus. But this story really belongs to the women — the “spoils” of war, and how they deal with their changes in fortune. This is a powerful, visceral, anti-war novel.

Kathryn Recommends

Around the World in 80 Trees Cover ImageAround the World in 80 Trees by Jonathan Drori (2018) – This beautifully illustrated book is a pleasure to read. Filled with some of the world’s most important trees from around the globe: historically, economically and societally (i.e.,sacred trees). Pick it up from time to time, or read it all the way through…

 

 

Beth Recommends

The Incendiaries: A Novel Cover ImageThe Incendiaries by RO Kwon (2018) – In the tradition of The Mothers, Exit West, Speak No Evil and What We Lose, Kwon’s novel packs dazzling prose and centers around a heavy topic, yet all marvelously contained in a small amount of pages. The Incendiaries asks essential life questions: What happens if you put all your faith into something and then discover that the bottom falls out from under you leaving you no solid base? What do you replace it with, do you rebuild or start over? In her debut, Kwon gives us three different points of view, twenty-somethings who hold onto each other so they don’t hit rock bottom. In an interview I read, one of several insightful pieces, she talked about writing on the syllable level. This granular, elemental level speaks to me, the atoms from which all creations come. I would read anything that flows from her pen.

Sara Recommends

The Mystery of Three Quarters: The New Hercule Poirot Mystery (Hercule Poirot Mysteries) Cover ImageThe Mystery of the Three Quarters; The New Hercule Poirot Mystery by Sophie Hannah (2018) – This is Hannah’s third incarnation of Agatha Christie (The Monogram Murders and Closed Casket). I swear she’s channeling the Grande Dame of Mystery, and this is her best yet. Poirot is quirky and intense as expected, more so for having to defend himself from four strangers who received forged letters accusing them of the murder of a well-known industrialist. He must clear himself and solve a murder. Trustworthy Inspector Catchpool is at the ready to assist his friend in the investigations. Pure madcap and volley. Written in uniquely dry British humor, it’s a jolly race to the defense of our Inspector and his forensic conclusion.

Susan Recommends

Clock Dance: A novel Cover ImageClock Dance by Anne Tyler (2018) – As Willa Drake reminisces about her past, four powerful events stand out but it is an unexpected moment of her sixth decade that sets the stage for the rest of her life. Such an engrossing read! I will never ignore another saguro cactus. I very much liked the quirky characters and the wonderful notion of how dance might express one’s perception of time passing. Chapters zipped by so quickly I was quite disconcerted when I realized only a few pages were left. Take this book on vacation. You will not be disappointed.

Brenna Recommends

Dear Mrs. Bird: A Novel Cover ImageDear Mrs. Bird by AJ Pearce (2018) – When you just can’t one more terrible news story, Dear Mrs. Bird is the solution. Living in London during the Blitz, impulsive and determinedly cheerful Emmy dreams of being a war correspondent, but ends up as a letter reader for a dour and repressive advice columnist. Instructed to destroy all letters deemed unpleasant, Emmy instead begins responding to them. A charming, if temporary, respite from our current reality.

Liza Recommends

Harbor Me Cover ImageHarbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson (2018) – In this powerful novel for middle grade readers, Ms. Woodson paints stunning portraits of six “special” 5th and 6th graders. Given the opportunity to have an hour every Friday just for themselves, they learn that by sharing who they are, their fears – and their dreams – become manageable. One boy’s father has been detained and may be sent back to the Dominican Republic. One girl’s mother is dead and her father is in prison. Another boy is bullied every day on the way home from school. A “rich” girl struggles with behavioral issues… The messages about the importance of friendship, of empathy, of understanding and accepting others has never been more urgent than now.Related image

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Books for summer camping: Adult fiction and nonfiction

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Some people might say that we’ve now entered the “dog days of August” but here at the Book Jam we like to call this time of year the “dog-eared book days of August”. It is the season when we finally get to the books in our pile that have been beckoning, lazing with them by the lake for long periods of time, folding over pages to remind us where to return  (hence the dog ears) only when it is time for a short break from the prose.

August is when we look forward to pulling out or back packs and beach bags and filling them full of books (and maybe a clean change of clothes, too) and heading with them to the shore of some quiet sunny river to get lost in the stories and ideas that lie between the pages.

Below are 28 ideas for what you might want to put in your backpack and head to the hills with to lose yourself in after a day of hiking. Remember, the faster you set up your tent, the faster you can open up those dog-eared and well loved books.

Happy reading!

 

Books Inspired by Ancient Greeks or Shakespeare and even Henry James (Because this seems to be a trend in our reading, and continues as MacBeth by Jo Nesbo is on our bedside table for August.)

FC9780316556347.jpgCirce by Madeline Miller (2018) – This saga covers the origin, life and final decisions of Circe, the original Greek witch.  Sprinkled throughout with men, women and gods from Greek Mythology, I found myself spell bound by what would happen next – even though I technically knew. And because Circe manages to succeed alone, banished to an island, she draws the wrath of gods, slightly reminiscent of some women today. In the end this is a gripping tale centered around a dysfunctional family of rivals, love and loss, punishment, and a tribute to a strong woman living in a predominantly man’s world. (Also on the April 2018 Indie Next List.) 

FC9780525431947.jpgNutshell: A Novel by Ian McEwan (2016) — Ok the tale of Hamlet reworked for Modern Day London and told form the perspective of an unborn child?  Yes, sounds too precious, but Mr. McEwan pulls it off. It truly is more brilliant than this quick summary shows it should be.  Perhaps because the narrator allows Mr. McEwan to ponder modern problems and pleasures without seeming to lecture.  Perhaps it is because of Mr. McEwan’s lovely prose.  Whatever the reason, I highly recommend this one, while admitting a bias for Mr. McEwan’s work. (A New York Times and Washington Post notable book and previously reviewed by us a few times.)

FC9780449006979.jpgGertrude and Claudius by John Updike (2000). Yes, Hamlet, that tortured prince receives a lot of time in High School and College English Lit classes, but did you ever think about his story from the perspective of his mother and her lover/second husband?  Well luckily for us, John Updike did. The result is a well written novel that forces you to rethink the Bard’s popular tale of a Danish Prince and his doomed lover Ophelia. This is different from most of Mr. Updike’s novels – try it, you might love it.  And if you don’t believe us, try the New York Times Book review “Updike has used Shakespeare to write a free-standing, pleasurable, and wonderfully dexterous novel about three figures in complex interplay.”  

FC9780451493422.jpgMrs. Osmond by John Banville (2017) – I am a huge fan of Mr. Banvile’s The Sea, which I often describe as the perfect dysfunctional Irish family novel.  I also enjoy his mysteries under his pen name Benjamin Black. I also loved reading The Portrait of A Lady by Henry James in my early 20s just after completing my own stint in Europe. Granted I was backpacking and sleeping in tents while Isabel Archer was being wined and dined for her fortune, but I still related somehow. Thus, I picked up Mr. Galbraith’s treatise of what happens to Isabel once The Portrait of A Lady ends, with high expectations for a great story. These were met. Somehow Mr. Banville manages to capture and use Mr. James’s prose style, wry humor, and social commentary while making this sequel his own.Mrs. Osmond explores what happens when the people we love aren’t who they seemed to be, how sudden wealth changes everything, what living abroad as an American can mean, and family. As The Guardian summed, “Banville is one of the best novelists in English. . . . Mrs Osmond is both a remarkable novel in its own right and a superb pastiche.”

FC9781770413993.jpgRose and Poe by Jack Todd (2017) – I am always going to read anyone who attempts to retell The Tempest, and Mr. Todd did not disappoint. In this tale, Mr. Todd re-imagines Shakespeare’s The Tempest from the point of view of Caliban (Poe) and his mother (Rose). Rose and Poe live in the woods quietly along side Prosper Thorne, a banished big city lawyer and his gorgeous daughter Miranda. When Poe appears carrying Miranda’s bruised and bloody body, he is arrested, despite lack of evidence he committed the crime; and Rose and Poe find themselves facing bitter hatred and threats from neighbors who once were friends. A timeless tale of how we stigmatize what frightens us, and the consequences of our prejudices.  

FC9781501140228.jpgHouse of Names by Colm Toibin (2017) – In this measured retelling of the story of Clytemnestra and her children, Mr. Toibin creates a sympathetic character as he reveals the tragic saga that led to her bloody actions (killing her husband). Told in four parts, Mr. Toibin portrays a murderess, her son Orestes, and the vengeful Electra, all the while playing with who deserves sympathy in the end. (Named a Best Book of 2017 by NPR.)

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Historical fiction

FC9780812985405.jpgLincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders (2017) – A fascinating look at Lincoln after his beloved son Willie dies and the USA is burning down all around him due to the Civil War.  Told in a completely uniquely gorgeous style and premise – actual historical documents describing this time and the souls of the dead interred with Willie give voice and color to the narrative. Challenging to read; fascinating to think about. (Winner of the Man Booker Prize, and an IndieNext pick.) 

FC9780062563705.jpgHalf-Drowned King by Linnea Hartsuyker (2017) Ragnvald and Svanhild, the brother and sister duo at the heart of this novel, lead the way through an adventurous re-telling of Norway’s medieval history. For those of you looking for a saga that highlights how personalities and desires influence everything, and that uses actual historical characters and battles, Ms. Hartsuyker’s work may be the perfect summer read for you. (August 2017 IndieNext pick.) 

FC9780385542364-1.jpgThe Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (2016) – I am late to the party over this National Book Award, Pulitzer Prize winning novel. But, this tale of Cora and her life as a slave will capture your imagination and give you many reason to pause and think about race relations today. Please pick it up if you have not already. (Winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award.) 

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General Fiction

FC9780316316132-1.jpgLess by Andrew Sean Green (2017) – This look at mid-life and lost loves is loaded with superb prose and insight.  Mr. Less makes a lovely main character to rout for, his life reflections are populated by interesting characters, and his travels abroad reminiscent of something Twain once wrote. I must admit it was not as funny for me as had been hyped, but I still liked it. Enjoy! (Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, New York Times Notable Book, Top Ten pick for the Washington Post and San Francisco Chronicle.) 

FC9781616205041.jpgYoung Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin (2017) – For those of us who lived through the Bill Clinton sexual relations intern scandal, this book will seem familiar. What might not seem so familiar is the humor and candor about society’s standards contained in this light novel about how decisions we make when we are young have implications. (September 2017 IndieNext book.)  

FC9781944700553.jpgMem by Bethany C Morrow (2018) – What happens when you can choose to eliminate horrific memories? Where do they go? What happens to your life afterwards?  Ms. Morrow gives her answers to these questions in this slim look at life in 1920s Montreal. And, since Brenna Bellavance the newest bookseller at the Norwich Bookstore brought this to my attention, I will use her review and say ditto to the haunting aspect. “Elsie is not a real person. From the moment she came to exist, she has been told this repeatedly. She is merely the physical embodiment of an unwanted memory extracted from another woman, a real woman, whose face she sees every time she looks in a mirror. Except that she remembers a life she didn’t live, loves people she never met, thinks her own thoughts, and feels her own feelings. So what makes a real person….real? Exquisite and haunting, Mem has stayed with me.” (June 2018 IndieNext Book.)  

FC9780679734772.jpgThe House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros – I LOVED this once again as I read it to discuss with my 9th grader who was forced to read it for his English teacher. Bonus — he, a very reluctant reader, loved it too :)! (Thanks you Ms. Eberhardt.) The trials and tribulations of the narrator as she navigates her life in NYC are deliciously unraveled by Ms. Cisneros sparse prose. Or as the New York Times reviewed ““Cisneros draws on her rich [Latino] heritage . . . and seduces with precise, spare prose, creat[ing] unforgettable characters we want to lift off the page. She is not only a gifted writer, but an absolutely essential one.”  

FC9780385349406Instructions for a Heatwave by Maggie O’Farrell (June 2013) — Yes, summer and heat go hand in hand, and currently, all over the globe, the weather is setting records for heat and discomfort. Apparently in 1976, London suffered more heat than most. So, we added a book we reviewed in 2013 to today’s post in honor of heat waves everywhere. That 1976 British heat wave is the setting for a series of events in this wonderful book about an Irish Catholic clan living in London.  The chain of events unfurls once the father of three grown children disappears, causing all the grown children to rally around their mother.  And well, his disappearance leads to a secret which when unveiled leads to a series of events that rapidly take over everything in the hot, hot heat of this long ago summer.  Enjoy!  

FC9780812996067.jpgAlternate Side by Anna Quindlen (2018) – I start this review with the confession that I miss Ms. Quindlen’s New York Times and Newsweek columns. Her insight, humor, precise prose, and hope amidst the chaos and difficulties she wrote of were a staple of my life for many years. These characteristics are evident in this summer beach read of a novel.  Nora has a great job, twins in college, a kind husband, and the perfect house on the best block in New York City – a dead end filled with people who get along. Then an incident occurs and unravels pretty much everything. Alternate Side offers a lovingly portrayed look at life in middle age with kids in college, jobs not quite what you dreamed of when you were 20, and of New York City itself.  A great beach read for anyone – especially anyone who truly loves NYC. As the New York Times stated, “Exquisitely rendered . . . [Quindlen] is one of our most astute chroniclers of modern life. . . . [Alternate Side] has an almost documentary feel, a verisimilitude that’s awfully hard to achieve.”

FC9780062484154.jpgWhatever Happened to Interracial Love? by Kathleen Collins (2016) – I am so glad someone put this collection of short stories in my hands. The writing by Ms. Collins – a little known African American artist and filmmaker – is distinct and concise and paints vivid pictures of life in New York in the 1970s. The backstory to the collection is even better – these stories were discovered by Ms. Collins’ daughter after her death. (Best Book of 2016 by NPR and Publishers Weekly 

FC9780735212206.jpgExit West by Mohsin Hamid – I LOVED this novel.  It is concise, gorgeously written, and covers important topics – love, immigration, war.  Perfect. (Winner 2018 Book of the Year by the Los Angeles Times, Ten Best Book of 2017 for the New York Times.)  

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Mysteries and thrillers and other beach reads

FC9780804114905.jpgLast Bus to Woodstock by Collin Dexter (1975) – I have been a fan of the BBC’s Inspector Lewis, Morse, and Endeavor series for years.  This is the first time I read those series’ primary source materials.  I am so glad I finally did. This was well-plotted intelligently written and fun to read.  I especially enjoyed vicariously visiting Oxford sites I have been privileged to stroll. Pick this series up (this title is first in the series), read, and perhaps then plan a trip to the UK – or watch the series. Thank you Danielle Cohen, an amazing audio-book narrator and actor, for reminding me that the books behind the BBC are great as well. Publishers Weekly agrees, “A masterful crime writer whom few others match.”

FC9780143133124.jpgThe Ruin by Dervla McTiernan (2018) – Besides having my new favorite name – Dervla, Ms. McTiernan’s debut novel introduces a great new detective series. Her main detective Cormac Reilly has a unexplained complicated past, the requisite desire for justice, and great assistance from another well-wrought detective Carrie O’Halloran and a new newbie to the Garda – Peter Fisher. The setting in Galway is part of the action and allows you to vicariously travel to some very wet time in the Irish countryside. (Also a July 2018 IndieNext pick.)   

FC9780061655517.jpgNemesis (and other titles) by Jo Nesbo (2002) – Somehow I missed this instalment in the Harry Hole series.  Another page-turner for mystery fans. As the nomination for the Edgar Nominee for Best Novel of the Year states — “The second Harry Hole novel to be released in America–following the critically acclaimed publication of The RedbirdNemesis is a superb and surprising nail-biter that places Jo Nesbo in the company of Lawrence Block, Ian Rankin, Michael Connelly, and other top masters of crime fiction. Nesbo has already received the Glass Key Award and the Booksellers’ Prize, Norway’s most prestigious literary awards. Nemesis is proof that there are certainly more honors in this extraordinary writer’s future”.  

FC9781616957186.jpgAugust Snow by Stephen Mack Jones (2017) – I so want to believe there is someone like August Snow – a half black, half Mexican, ex-cop with a strong sense of justice and neighborhood – looking out for Detroit. The hope this book expresses for Detroit weaves throughout the narrative and Mr. Jones’s descriptions of Detroit’s decline and partial resurgence make the city an actual character in this thriller. Yes, he makes mistakes, and wow his body count is way too high for my tastes by the end, but so few books take place in modern day Detroit, enjoy this one! (Also a Winner of the Hammett Prize, and annual award for best mystery by the International Association of Crime Writers.)  

FC9781508238607.jpgPoison by John Lescroart (2018) – I love Mr. Lescroart’s Dimas Hardy Series for the chance to relive life in San Francisco and the great cast of characters Mr. Hardy uses to always ensure justice is served.  This latest instalment continues this love affair. These are my reliable guilty pleasure.  

 

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Nonfiction

FC9780316392389.jpgCalypso by David Sedaris (2018) – Mr. Sedaris’s latest collection of essays tackles the “not-so-joyful” aspects of reaching middle age. Perhaps because of this, this collection is not as laugh-out-loud funny as his previous collections. That said, it is impossible for me to read Mr. Sedaris’s work without hearing his distinctive voice in my head, making his wry insights even funnier than they initially appear. And honestly, his perceptive commentary about life’s mundane and heartbreaking moments is superb no matter the level of humor.  I will frame his paragraph in “Leviathan” beginning “It’s ridiculous how often you have to say hello on Emerald Island” for its treatise on the fact Southerners insist on saying hello. I will then present it to my children as a constant explanation for why I say hello to complete strangers; they may never understand this trait, but they will forever have documentation of its source – my childhood in Tennessee. Pick this up and enjoy! (We suppose we should have put this in the inspired by Ancient Greeks category.) 

FC9780062838742.jpgAmateur Hour: Motherhood in Essays and Swear Words by Kimberly Harrington (2018) – This collection of essays features a distinctive voice (one that is often seen in The New Yorker, and McSweeney’s) that applies humor, tears, cursing, love, and unique insight to almost every aspect of motherhood/life: a failed pregnancy, relocating across the country, a request to end “mommy wars” steeped with insight from both sides, grandparents/Florida, to do lists, meal-train etiquette, participation trophies, parenting experts, plane rides with kids, and partners. You will grin throughout this collection, as each essay is graced with humor and humility. You will tear-up a bit reading many of the essays as some are poignant and unsparing (e.g., a retelling of a failed pregnancy, and/or a story of a fight over divorcing – they didn’t – that uses FB “likes” to score points). Quick note: we found this book because one of its chapters was a recent Op-Ed in The New York Times. (Previously reviewed in mother’s day picks.)

FC9780143125471-1.jpgThe Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown (2013) – Not sure why I never got around to reading this, but I am so glad I finally did. What a terrific tale of triumphing – ultimately over Hitler, but also over horrendous parents, poverty and low expectations.  

FC9780399588174.jpgBorn a Crime by Trevor Noah (2016) – Funny, sad, and amazingly moving memoir about growing up a biracial child in South Africa during and just after Apartheid. Mr. Noah is insightful and honest as he dissects his life and his choices and the choices that were made for him. Each chapter begins with an overview of life in South Africa that relates to the subsequent story from his own life. (Named on the best books of the year by NPR, New York Times, Esquire, Booklist.) 

FC9780062684929.jpgUnbelievable by Katy Tur (2017) – An up front and personal account of the 2016 presidential race from a MSNBC and MBC reporter who followed Trump from the time when everyone thought his candidacy was a long shot all the way through his election. As Jill Abramson said in a New York Times book review – “Compelling… this book couldn’t be more timely.” (The author was the recipient of the 2017 Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence in Journalism.)   

FC9781608197651.jpgMen We Reaped by Jessmyn Ward (2013) – This coming of age memoir shows what it is like to grow up smart, poor, black and female in America. Ms. Ward’s starting point is a two year period of time shortly after she graduated college during which five boys who she loved and grew up along the Mississippi Coast with experience violent deaths. (Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath also play a role in this drama.) Her prose illuminates these dead young men and the people who loved/still love them; it also exposes the people behind the statistics that almost one in 10 young black men are in jail and murder is the greatest killer of black men under the age of 24. And while the material is brutal, the memoir is not; it is insightful, introspective, beautifully written, and important. At some point Ms. Ward states that the series of deaths is “a brutal list, in its immediacy and its relentlessness, and it’s a list that silences people. It silenced me for a long time.” We are glad she found her voice and told her story. And, we hope to see it on a big screen near you soon. (On the October 2013 IndieNext list.) 

And, One final note — this post is our last for a while as it is is time for our annual “Gone Readin’ hiatus”. We look forward to bringing you great reviews of superb books at some point in late September.

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So, Meghan Markle of the USA marries Prince Harry of the UK in six days. When Kate Middleton married Prince William, The Book Jam published a post reviewing books about princesses. For these royal nuptials, we thought we would highlight books that might help Ms. Markle as she assumes her new duties in the UK, figures out life in a new country, and orients to her new role.

FC9780380727506.jpgNotes From A Small Island by Bill Bryson (1998) – And sometimes as you adjust to new circumstances,  you just need humor and a good travel guide. Like Ms. Markle, Mr. Bryson also married a Brit and found his life forever changed. This book chronicles his final trip around Great Britain, which had been his home for over twenty years, before returning to the USA. We believe Ms. Markle might find it helpful as she adjust to life in the UK. And, we believe that Mr. Bryson’s humor is always welcome, even if she finds his perspective on the UK or being married to a Brit different from her own experiences. She could also read his In A Sunburned Country as prep for her first official trip Down Under as a Royal. And, we will close by saying again that Mr. Bryson knows how to make you laugh.

FC9781101911761.jpgWe Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2014) – Ms. Markle is a self-proclaimed feminist. This gorgeous, concise long-essay-of-a-book might help her to articulate why as she travels the UK in her new role.  We envision her handing these books out like candy as she performs her new duties. Previously reviewed by us on our post entitled Beyond the Marches.

FC9781612370293.jpgLet’s Go London: Oxford and Cambridge (2013) by Harvard Student Agencies (2013) – Assuming she can ditch her security detail, this guide could help Ms. Markle find London’s top spots for those traveling on a restricted budget. Though we realize she has almost unlimited resources, if she wishes to remain in touch with the non-royals who inhabit this planet, we recommend this guide as a great way to find young travellers on limited budgets from all around the world. As another online review states — “Let’s Go Budget London is a budget traveler’s ticket to getting the most out of a trip to London—without breaking the bank… This slim, easy-to-carry guide is packed with dollar-saving information to help you make every penny count.” There is also one for Europe to help her escape on her on foreign trips. Either of these books would make great graduation gifts for those students lucky enough to have time and some money to travel.

FC9780143113553.jpgFC9780735212206.jpgExit West by Mohsin Hamid (2017) – or Strawberry Fields  (published as Two Caravans in the UK) by Marina Lewycka (2007) – Both these novels provide excellent ways to understand refugees – a cause that may benefit from some Royal Attention. Strawberry Fields/Two Caravans takes place in the English Countryside; so, it could count as a travel guide as well. These books were previously reviewed by us on Refugees, Immigrants, Syria, and Other Thoughts and Our 2016 Summer Reading List.

FC9781501166761.jpgAsymmetry by Lisa Halliday (2018) — We recommend Ms. Markle (and you) read Asymmetry. Why? well because, sometimes as you adjust to new circumstances you just need a good book. This first published novel by Ms. Halliday is just that – a quiet novel, written with gorgeous prose about interesting and distinct characters living their lives in New York, London, Iraq and elsewhere. Asymmetry explores the power of fiction – with excerpts from some of your favorite novels cleverly placed throughout. It also explores what happens in situations of inequity – a twenty-something in love with an older, well-established, and famous novelist (based upon the author’s actual life we gave heard), and an American man detained by immigration in London. The final section offers humor and some closure. While we honestly felt like Asymmetry was actually three loosely related but intelligently written short stories, instead of a coherent novel, this novel has us thinking about it days later which is never a bad thing. Don’t take our word for it though, The New York Times also gave it a lovely review. (The Times reviewer also said she read it three times, so maybe if we did the same coherence would grow apparent.)

FC9780811855518.jpgPorn for Women by The Cambridge Women’s Pornography Cooperative (2007) – It might be worth having a copy or two of this picture book hanging about Kensington Palace for her prince and her to review as they launch into married life. Previously reviewed by the Book Jam on Mother’s Day: Porn (men with vacuums) and Practical.

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We hesitate to follow the joy of family celebrations for Passover and Easter, and the first signs of true spring with a post about war and refugees. However, waking this morning and hearing news from the weekend about immigrants in the USA, and noting that Syria has really never left the news for years, we are forging ahead with reviewing books that help us all learn a bit more about refugees and war. As much as we’d love for the world to be at peace, it is not. And, we firmly believe reading great books about important topics is a great way we can all help move the needle towards peace.

So, today we review two books about refugees and war that help us look a little deeper than the NPR stories and newspaper articles on these topics. One book is a fictional account of war in an unnamed country that could be Syria. The other is a first person account by a child of living in a war zone – in her case Syria. Both are important, helpful, and we believe worth your time.

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FC9780735212206.jpgExit West by Mohsin Hamid – We LOVE this novel.  It is short, gorgeously written, and covers important topics (e.g., immigration, war). Clever in every way. Two bonus aspects — 1) it is an excellent Book Club choice; and, 2) it is now available in paperback.

Now, a brief plot summary that in no way does this book justice: two young people — fierce Nadia and gentle Saeed — meet as their home country teeters on the brink and then eventually succumbs to civil war. Their struggle to find and create home, spans this terrific novel about refugees, war, randomness, friendship, kindness, family, and love. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9781501178443.jpgDear World by Bana Alabed (2018) — I don’t tweet so I missed the “real-time” story of this young Syrian. But, I am so glad I found Ms. Alabed’s book about her life. Tragically, her idyllic childhood ended at age three when civil war arrived in Aleppo. As war continued, she endured bombing, destruction, and fear while trapped with her family with little to no access to food, water, or medicine. Eventually, Ms. Alabed and her family escape to Turkey. Throughout, she tweeted about her experience. These tweets and some prose from her mother comprise this moving and important first-hand account about living in war and being a refugee. Is this high literature? Probably not; but, it is a raw first hand account of living in a war zone and being a refugee. And, sometimes it takes a kid to bring the horrors of the headlines to life. Don’t take our word for it though. JK Rowling described this book as “a story of love and courage amid brutality and terror, this is the testimony of a child who has endured the unthinkable.” ~ Lisa Christie

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